The Myth About Arctic Drilling

It seems to be a common talking point among some folks in the conservative blogosphere that drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) will solve all our nation’s energy woes, thus lowering the price of a gallon of gas.

However, this myth that some on the right would have the rest of us believe is just that – a myth. Despite their best attempts to paint drilling in places like ANWR as a panacea to all our nation’s energy woes, the reality of the situation is much different, according to energy forecasters within the federal government:

[T]he U.S. Energy Information Administration, an independent statistical agency within the Department of Energy, concluded that new oil from ANWR would lower the world price of oil by no more than $1.44 per barrel—and possibly have as little effect as 41 cents per barrel—and would have its largest impact nearly 20 years from now if Congress voted to open the refuge today. EIA produced the analysis in response to a request by Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who noted that the last time the agency had taken a look at the economics of ANWR production was in 2000, when oil was $22.04 a barrel.

That’s the key point that most folks who support drilling in ANWR don’t want to admit – that even if we started drilling in ANWR today, the oil wouldn’t benefit us for roughly ten years, and by that point, the amount of oil we’d be likely to get from ANWR wouldn’t be much more than a drop in the bucket (no pun intended) of our nation’s overall energy needs:

If Congress approved development in 2008, it would take 10 years for oil production to commence, EIA said. With production starting, then, in 2018, EIA said the most likely scenario is that oil would peak at 780,000 barrels per day in 2027 and decline to 710,000 barrels per day in 2030. Currently, the United States consumes about 20 million barrels of oil per day.

EIA said its projection is that ANWR oil production would amount to 0.4 percent to 1.2 percent of total world oil consumption in 2030. The figure is low enough that OPEC could neutralize any price impact by decreasing supplies to match the additional production from Alaska, EIA noted.

The great myth that drilling in ANWR will solve all our nation’s energy woes is just that – a myth – and it’s clear now’s the time to start getting serious about increasing our energy independence through renewable energy sources. We’ve got the brainpower and resources to provide for our energy needs without drilling for more oil or building more nuclear power plants; we just need the resolve to do it.


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7 thoughts on “The Myth About Arctic Drilling

  1. While I won’t dispute your figures, I’d like to point out that most of those so-called renewable engrgy sources you point to are unlikely to provide more than a fraction of our energy needs. Drilling in ANWAR is part of a larger solution; we need to begin drilling in ANWAR and elsewhere. With current technology, this can be done cleanly and efficiently. And part of the reason it takes so long to get gas to the pump is the extremely slow pace at which permits are approved–to get the oil faster, cut the red tape. I’d also note we should combine these efferts with a larger plan to recover whatever oil we can from the United Ststes and its territories.

    While I believe we should invest in alternative sources of energy, the environmentalists themselves put up a huge stink enery time someone tries to out up a windfarm, a dam, or any other sort of energy plant. There will always be some rare bug or fish or bird in the way. That’s a big part of the problem. What we should be doing is building nuclear plants, but the left refuses to hear anything regarding the question since they saw The China Syndrom.

    On the other hand, we have the debacle of ethanol–another gift of the environmental left. This is a clear example of the problems we have when we try to rush fixes while ignoring practical and proven solutions.

    The left always points to some mythical replacement for oil that is just over the horizon. Meanwhile we have real needs now–and in twenty years.

  2. Patrick, the “debacle of ethanol” as you call it isn’t something that’s the result of just the environmental left. President Bush himself has promoted the use of ethanol throughout his administration:

    I want to thank Mayor Tony Petelos and the city council for serving and leading. See, what we have just witnessed is a police force that is filling up its vehicles with a fuel called E85. When you hear somebody talk about fuel E85, that means 85 percent of the fuel comes from ethanol. And ethanol is produced from corn. And corn is grown right here in the United States of America.

    One way to become less dependent on foreign oil is to use American-grown products to power our automobiles. And that’s what we just witnessed.


    I like the idea of a President or a Governor saying, you know something, there’s a lot of corn, and we’re less dependent on oil from overseas, or, we’ve got some new breakthroughs, which makes us less dependent on oil. And the good news is this technology also helps us be good stewards of the environment.

    Not all the blame falls on liberals or the environmental left Patrick; plenty of blame belongs to President Bush as well.

  3. I find many of your blog interesting, yet you give no answer to what you think should be done. Just saying that what is purposed is not the answer is not an answer. How would you fix the oil problem?

    Just a general question. Do most liberal blogs just complain about what someone else said, purpose, or have done? I think you bring up interesting subjects, but no other answers.

  4. Jeff, I think there’s a lot we can do to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. If we’re talking about power generation, we could definitely make more of a push to utilize the resources we already have, such as geothermal, solar, and wind power. If we’re talking about fuel for our cars, I think we should definitely look at dropping the current tariff on the importation of sugar cane-based ethanol, and we could also do more to encourage the development of better hybrid and electric motor technologies.

  5. Sugarcane ethanol suffers from the same great problems as other ethanol products do–you can’t ship it through a pipeline and it does not burn efficiently. Part of the problem is that when you ship a product by tanker truck, you greatly reduce the overall impact the product has. Also, you get less MPG from gas diluted with ethanol. Finally, by importing sugarcane ethanol we are only encouraging environmental destruction (not to mention the near slave-like conditions in Brazil) in another part of the world. I thought the left was supposed to be against environmental imperialism? Guess not. We should build more nuclear power plants: they’re reliable, compatible with existing infrastructure, proven technology, and produce a small fraction of the waste they once did as the radioactive material can be recycled.

    And fr the record, Bush is a stupid fool for caving in to the farmers of iowa during an election year. McCain isn’t much better.

  6. Super, while the USGS believes there’s significant reserves in the Bakken formation, one issue is how much of that oil will actually be recoverable. While there’s an estimated 400 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken, only 3 to 4 billion will be recoverable.

    Estimates of the Bakken’s technically recoverable oil have ranged from as low as 1% — because the Bakken shale has low porosity, making the oil difficult to extract — to Leigh Price’s estimate of 50% recoverable. Reports issued by both the USGS and the state of North Dakota in April 2008 seem to indicate the lower range of recoverable estimates are more realistic with current technology.


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